The method sees fish and plants cultivated in one integrated system, with the fish waste providing an organic food source for the plants that filter the water for the fish.
Sylvia Bernstein, president and founder of The Aquaponic Source – an educational and resource company – said aquaponics is the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soilless growing of plants).
“Water containing the waste from the fish is pumped into the grow beds which are filled with gravel or manufactured growing material,” Bernstein told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Within that material is the naturally occurring nitrifying bacteria, other microbes and worms that break down and convert the fish waste into a form that is available for uptake by the plants. The plants, in turn, filter the water that returns to the fish tank.”
A viable commercial option?
James Godsil, co-founder of Sweet Water Organics and the Sweet Water Foundation, the Milwaukee-based firm and Foundation established to develop aquaponics commercially in global markets, said: “Aquaponics on a commercial scale will work… but it has a number of intricate relational patterns that it must obtain or you kill the fish… it is very complicated because simulating nature is a profound challenge.”
Bernstein said that aquaponics requires less than 10% of the water used in traditional irrigation methods to cultivate the same amount of produce due to recirculation.
The systems can also be set up anywhere which means that food can be grown on land that would not be suitable for soil-based agriculture, she continued, often utilising green energy options.
Subra Mukherjee, PhD, secretary of the Society for Appropriate Rural Technology for Sustainability (ARTS), an NGO in India focused on sustainable development, backed aquaponics.
“Aquaponics systems are not only eco-friendly, sustainable, provide food security and create sustainable livelihoods, they are also commercially feasible and make good business sense – especially in a world of dwindling and escalating costs of natural resources, such as land and water,” he said.
An Indian vision
The Sweet Water Foundation is working with ARTS to commercialise aquaponics in India and working hard to, as Mukherjee said, “get the message out throughout the country that aquaponics is a global solution for food and nutritional security”.
“We hope to build aquaponic eco parks in Mumbai and Kolkata, followed in other major cities in India,” he added.
Godsil said there is a vision of setting up 1,000 commercial projects in India as well as 10 million small-scale systems in homes, schools and gardens throughout India and the rest of Asia.
There is one small project currently running in India, Godsil said, but it is mainly talks with scientists and engineers to ensure they understand the concept and can refine it into a viable business model.
Godsil said a Chinese engineer told him “that if it proves as safe and efficient as its pioneer practitioners claim, and if it introduced in a transparent way to China, the government could well be a powerful ally in the introduction of this food production methodology.”